When Disney’s animated film musical Frozen hit movie theatres in 2013, fans immediately started clamoring for a version of the movie to claim the Broadway stage. To the untrained eye, it seems an easy task. The story is there, the songs are written; add some sets and costumes and voila!
Of course, it’s much more complicated than that, and even with source material there is writing and re-writing to be done. Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, the husband-wife Oscar-winning songwriting team behind Frozen, had worked on adaptations before and knew it would be a challenging undertaking. “To most songwriters that haven’t done it before, you would even think, ‘What’s really to be done?’ You know? It’s a musical movie and you put the musical movie onstage,” says Lopez. “There’s a lot more to it than that.” (Which is why the musical is set to land on Broadway in 2018.)
At the same time as Lopez and his wife were writing the expanded Broadway-bound Frozen, Disney was simultaneously developing an abbreviated version for Disneyland in Anaheim, CA. “It was going to be a 45 to 50 minute, maybe even an hour version of the show, and we went to see a reading of it,” says Lopez of the show that is now playing at Disney’s Hyperion. “They put our entire score of songs in the show that were in the movie. They didn’t cut anything, but they trimmed what they had to down to make it less than an hour, and it was great.
“The shock was, ‘Oh my God. What we’ve written is an hour-long show,’” continues Lopez. “So we realized, ‘Oh my Gosh, we’re not writing five [new] songs. We’re gonna be writing ten or 12. Not only that, the elements of the movie that are really kind of not theatrical, like close-ups and action sequences, all of that needs to be done through musical storytelling. That’s that area where you really have to be creative, in terms of some restructuring and some rethinking and just, hopefully, smart choices.”
Luckily, Lopez and Anderson-Lopez can put their faith in an old friend: director Alex Timbers. “When we talked about who should direct Frozen, his name immediately popped up,” says Lopez of the Tony-nominated director. “He was at the top of our list, and he was at the top of Disney’s list, honestly.”
The trio previously worked together when Timbers directed the Lopez’s new musical Up Here, which premiered in 2015 at La Jolla Playhouse in California. “We’ve been working with him since he was basically right out of college,” says Lopez. “We really have watched him grow as an artist, and we’re just so excited to finally get to be doing projects with him—that it’s not just us [sitting] in our living room talking to Alex.”
In general, Lopez has been thrilled to revisit the characters he and his wife created with Jennifer Lee, who wrote and directed the film and now writes the book for the Frozen Broadway musical. “We’ve had the glorious, luxurious chance to get back into a story that we loved and had a fun time telling the first time around,” says Lopez, “[now] telling it again in a deeper, more musical way.”
Ruthie Fierberg is the Features Editor at Playbill.com. She has also written for Backstage, Parents and American Baby, including dozens of interviews with celeb moms and dads for parents.com. See more at ruthiefierberg.com and follow her on Twitter at @RuthiesATrain.